In Melanctha, both the vocabulary and syntax are undoubtedly simple. The repetition of names, specific terms, and explanations are tedious, however they offer an unusual argument. Without heavy description of the setting or characters, we rely on the narration to find feeling through several perspectives.
The Cubist movement was known for its use of simultaneous perspective in painting, much like Stein’s Melanctha. To someone oblivious of a painting that is done by Picasso, they may immediately conclude that the painting’s shapes, colors, and overall execution is simple. However, the communication being transmitted through the art is carries a larger message. Although Stein uses elementary words and childish repetition, she is able to convey complicated ideas using each character’s view.
“Melanctha Herbert never really lost her sense that it was Jane Harden who had taught her, but Jane did many things that Melanctha now no longer needed. And then, too, Melanctha never could remember right when it came to what she had done and what had happened. Melanctha now sometimes quarreled with Jane, and they no longer went about together, and sometimes Melanctha really forgot how much she owned to Jane Harden’s teaching.”
Stein, Gertrude. “Melanctha.” In Three Lives. New York: Grafton, 1909. Internet Archive. http://archive.org/details/threelivesstorie00steirich.
“It had ceased to be a blank space of delightful mystery–a white patch for a boy to dream gloriously over. It had become a place of darkness. But there was in it one river especially, a mighty big river, that you could see on the map, resembling an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country, and its tail lost in the depths of the land” (Conrad 108).
Conrad often alludes to “darkness” throughout the novel, as evident in this passage at the beginning of the novel. The darkness may be referring to an individual darkness within a person, or in this case, an unexplored primitive setting. Conrad often appears to depict Africa in such a manner, making it clear as to why many critics question whether or not his writing is considered racist.
Conrad, Joseph, and Cedric Thomas. Watts. Heart of Darkness and Other Tales. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1990. Print.
“Admitting the vagueness which afflicts all criticism of novels, let us hazard the opinion that for us at this moment the form of fiction most in vogue more often misses than secures the thing we seek. Whether we call it life or spirit, truth or reality, this, the essential thing, has moved off, or on, and refuses to be contained any longer in such ill-fitting vestments as we provide.”
Woolf, Virginia. “Modern Fiction.” In The Common Reader, 149. San Diego, CA: Harcourt, 1925.
The problem with categorizing fiction into forms is the same problem of criticism in general, being that the opinion stated is strongly affected by the setting in which it is being stated in. These classifications are best done in retrospect, as you cannot affect a literary movement if it has already happened.